Tuesday, August 20, 2013

China’s Minister of Defense Visits the U.S. to Build Common Ground but Japan Stands in the Way

This commentary was first posted on New America Media.

How will Japan’s recent policy shift to offensive weaponry affect the U.S.-China ongoing dialogue between their respective defense chiefs?

General Chang Wanquan’s visit to the US this week as minister of defense is the latest of a continuing series of exchanges between China and the U.S, aimed at building trust between the military of both countries. Both sides agree that sharing information and discussing issues of common interests will enhance understanding and cooperation.

Whether meeting on common grounds will lead to recognition and mutual respect for the differences still outstanding between the two counties remains unanswered. Moreover, aside from existing differences that have bedeviled the bilateral relations, a new development has come to the fore: Japan’s pronounced shift to militarism.

The newly elected Abe government, elected on a platform of nationalism, is threatening to revise Japan’s constitution and disavow the peace covenants that were inserted to remind the people of Japan of the atrocities committed by their military--hideous acts of inhumanity that repelled the people in Asia. At the end of WWII, Japan was to never again mount offensive military capabilities but limit to pacifist self-defense forces.

The Abe government picked August 6, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, to launch a new super destroyer, named “Izumo,” big enough to launch helicopters and, with a bit of modification, fighter planes. The deck was festooned with the war flag of the old imperial army and the helicopters were emblazoned with the number 731.

Much of the symbolism associated with this launch went over the heads of the American public but certainly had the desired affect by arousing the anger of the people in China.

Japan’s official position has always been to point to Hiroshima as a reminder to the Japanese people that they were victims of WWII and American aggression, contrary to the idea that Japan was the aggressor.

Unit 731 was the secret research station located in the outskirts of Harbin where live human beings were subject to injections of toxins such as bubonic plague and anthrax and then cut open while alive to monitor progress of the ravages of the diseases—all without administration of anesthesia. Use of anesthesia, the reasoning went, may distort the test results of the trial weapons of germ warfare.

The victims of these biological experiments were not just Chinese civilians but included American POWs captured from the Bataan death march in Philippines. In the waning days of the War, most of the biological testing camp was destroyed.

General Shiro Ishii, the commandant of Unit 731, secretly negotiated with the American occupation force to turn over the research data in exchange for escaping from prosecution for himself and his research team. The Americans accepted Ishii’s terms and thus the activities of Unit 731 were never exposed to the limelight of a military tribunal and prosecution.

Thanks to Ishii and America complicity, members of his research team died of natural causes and never felt the sting of having to explain their heinous activity and the disgrace of public condemnation; some even walked tall in their post-war careers as respected members of society.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war was just a bit too soon for Ishii. He was experimenting with the use of high altitude balloons to drop germ-laden bombs on the west coast of the U.S. Had he succeeded, America would surely not be so ready to forget Japan’s role in the war.

President Obama likes to tell despots that they are standing on the wrong side of history. In siding with Japan on any disputes Japan has with China, the U.S. is clearly on the wrong side and perhaps the blind side of history.

Hard to know if General Chang would have the opportunity to discuss with the Secretary Hagel of the significantly different attitude about Japan between China and the U.S. America has been quick to forgive Japan but China could not because Japan has yet to own up to their role in the war and make a heart felt apology and amends.

China and the U.S. were wartime allies when Japan was the mortal enemy. Japan should not now become an obstacle to China and the U.S. becoming partners to world peace.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

First Chinese American Leaders

Thanks to historian and veteran China hand, Scott D. Seligman, we now know something of Chinese American leaders that lived in America as early as the middle of 19th century and the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.

The first notable leader who fought for the civil rights of Chinese in America was Wong Chin Foo. Wong came to the U.S. in 1867 at the age of 20 under the sponsorship of a well meaning American missionary who thought that after being properly educated, Wong would return to China to preach to the vast masses waiting to be converted.

Wong lasted one year at the university at Lewisburg, Pa, predecessor to today's Bucknell University. He didn't finish his studies but went back to China to marry and sired a son. He came back to the U.S. in 1873 alone leaving his family behind and became a U.S. citizen in 1874. For the next quarter of a century he lived in the U.S. and he was to exercise his rights of American citizenship to the max.

In a role reversal, he self appointed himself as China's first missionary to America to extoll values in Buddhism and Confucianism and to counter anti-Chinese prejudices and racial bias at every opportunity. He wrote and spoke tirelessly and was credited with the first to coin the term, Chinese American. He challenged anti-Chinese demagogue, Denis Kearney, to a public debate and he was judged the winner when they finally did meet in a public confrontation.

He said on behalf of the Chinese living in America, "As residents of the United States, we claim a common manhood with all other nationalities, and believe we should have that manhood recognized according to the principles of common humanity and American freedom." Not bad for someone whose English was a second language without the advantage of proper schooling.

The next set of Chinese American leaders as told by Seligman was a group of four that organized a fundraiser for the benefit of victims of pogrom in Kishinev, then a part of Russian empire. The benefit was a play held in the Chinese Theater in Chinatown in May of 1903. There were three performances in order to satisfy the demand. New York Times reported that this must be the first event of this kind ever in the world.

The leaders, all ethnic Chinese, were Joseph Singleton, Guy Maine, Dek Foon and Jue Chue. All four were prominent in the Chinese community, spoke fluent English and well known to the New York society at large. Two of them saw the advantage of adopting Anglicized names and three had Caucasian wives. They were pillars of society and saw their future staked to the American soil.

They have been battling against the Chinese Exclusion Acts and the bias against the Chinese ability to immigrate the America. They have been reaching out to the American society at large and in holding the fundraiser, they were aligning with the Jewish community and indirectly protesting the injustices being suffered by the Chinese in America.

These stories go to show that contrary to the image of docile, well behaved Chinese in America, we always had activists willing to challenge injustices and intolerable status quo.  These individuals deserved to be honored and remembered.
I had known Scott as a highly regarded China business consultant, the July 2013 issue of Chinese American Forum reintroduced him to me as a historian wherein he wrote about Chinese fundraiser for the Jews of Kishinev.